California Vehicle Code 23224 VC makes it a crime for a person under the age of 21 to drive a motor vehicle containing an alcoholic beverage or to possess an alcoholic beverage while riding in a motor vehicle. A violation of this law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months of jail time.
The language of Vehicle Code 23224 states:
“(a) No person under 21 years of age shall knowingly drive any motor vehicle carrying any alcoholic beverage…
(b) No passenger in any motor vehicle who is under 21 years of age shall knowingly possess or have under that person’s control any alcoholic beverage…”
Note, though, that the law does allow people under 21 to transport alcohol for work, or drive with alcohol while under the supervision of or acting at the request of a responsible adult.
- an 18-year-old driving a car with a bottle of wine in the back seat.
- a 20-year-old riding shotgun in a car with a six-pack of beer in a bag.
- a minor driving a motor vehicle with a flask in the glove box.
People accused of a crime under this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they are exempt under the law,
- they did not know of any alcohol, and/or
- the police stopped or arrested them without probable cause.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. What is prohibited by VC 23224?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. What is prohibited by VC 23224?
Vehicle Code 23224 makes it a crime for a person to either:
- knowingly drive a motor vehicle while carrying any alcoholic beverage, or
- knowingly possess any alcoholic beverage while a passenger in a motor vehicle.1
Note that in both of the above scenarios, a person is only guilty of a crime if he/she actually knows that alcohol is in the vehicle, or he/she is in possession of alcohol.
The language of VC 23224 does set forth several exceptions where people are not guilty of a crime. People are not guilty under the statute if they are transporting a closed/sealed container of alcohol and one of the following is true:
- they are accompanied by a parent, responsible adult relative, or another adult designated by a parent or a legal guardian,
- they are employed by someone who is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages and are driving the motor vehicle during regular hours in the course of their employment, or
- they are following, in a timely manner, the reasonable instructions of a parent, legal guardian, responsible adult relative or adult designee relating to disposition of the alcohol.2
Note that if people under the age of 21 violate this law and were drinking alcohol and have any trace of alcohol in their system, a prosecutor can charge them with both:
- possession of alcohol in a vehicle, per VC 23224, and
- underage driving under the influence (DUI), per VC 23136.
Vehicle Code 23136 is California’s zero-tolerance law on underage drinking and driving (or, underage DUI). People violate this statute if they are under the age of 21 and drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. They do not need to be impaired, deemed under the influence of alcohol, or have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher.
2. Are there legal defenses?
Criminal defense lawyers draw on several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. Three common ones include showing that:
- the defendant is exempt under the law.
- the accused did not know of the presence of alcohol.
- police stopped or arrested the accused without probable cause.
2.1. Exempt under the law
Recall that there are a few exceptions under this statute that say people are not in violation of the law. A defense, then, is for a defendant to show that he/she falls under one of these exceptions. Perhaps, for example, the accused was driving with alcohol in the car but his/her parent was riding as a passenger.
2.2. No knowledge
Recall, too, that people are only guilty under this law if they actually knew that alcohol was in their car, or they had possession of it. Therefore, it is always a defense for people to show that they had no knowledge of the alcohol.
2.3. No probable cause
Law enforcement can only stop or arrest a person if they have probable cause that he/she has committed an offense. As such, an accused can challenge a charge by showing that the police never had probable cause of a crime. If true, a judge can exclude certain evidence from a case, reduce a charge, or drop the case altogether.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this code section is a misdemeanor offense.3
The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.4
In addition, the court will probably suspend a defendant’s driver’s license for up to one year. If a defendant does not yet have his/her license, the court may delay the issuance of the license for one year.5 Note that a license suspension is less severe than the revocation of a person’s driving privileges, which is usually initiated by the California DMV.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the possession of alcohol in a vehicle by someone under 21. These are:
- drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle – VC 23221,
- driving while possessing an open container of alcohol or marijuana – VC 23222, and/or
- minor in possession of alcohol – BP 25662.
4.1. Drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle – VC 23221
Per Vehicle Code 23221 Vehicle Code 23224 VC, drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle is the offense where people drive a motor vehicle, or ride as a passenger in one, and drink alcohol or smoke marijuana.
As with violations of VC 23224, this crime can be charged along with drunk driving, a DUI charge, or the violation of one other of California’s DUI laws. If so, a defendant is free to hire a DUI attorney and challenge it with a California DUI defense.
4.2. Driving while possessing an open container of alcohol or marijuana – VC 23222
Per Vehicle Code 23222 Vehicle Code 23224 VC, driving while possessing an open container of alcohol or marijuana is a misdemeanor offense.
Unlike with a violation of VC 23224, a violation of this law is an infraction punishable by a fine of $100 or more.
4.3. Minor in possession of alcohol – BP 25662
Under Business and Professions Code 25662, minor in possession of alcohol is the crime where minors possess alcohol in a public place.
As with VC 23224, people are only guilty of this offense if they knew that they were in possession of alcohol. The crime is an infraction punishable by a fine of $250.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer or one of our DUI lawyers, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- California Vehicle Code 23224 VC.
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- Vehicle Code 13202.5a VC.